1097. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 25 August 1805

1097. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 25 August 1805 ⁠* 

Sunday. Aug 25. 1805.  Keswick.

My dear Cottle

Your letter has very much affected me – I lose no time in answering it, in the hope of suggesting something which may be found useful. For twelvemonths past I have used that sort of case-hardening which Franklin calls the air-bath, – rubbing myself every morning when I get out of bed with a coarse towel, xxxxxx xxxxxxxx <for five minutes> this practice <exposure> I believe tends very much to diminish the susceptibility of the body to cold. if you are disposed to try this it begin gradually, & do not expose yourself at first above half a minute. but friction either with coarse towels or with the flesh-brush you cannot use too much; – it may in great measure supply the want of exercise. – I do not myself believe that sedentary habits are so prejudicial to health as they are supposed to be. We know they are not in hot climates. Might it not however prevent some of the possible inconveniences to which you may be otherwise liable, if you changed your chair once or twice a day, – & when not only employed in conversation – preferred the settee? The increased lameness I hope is only for a time, whatever weakens the whole system must necessarily have weakened the weakest part. as you get strength this affliction will diminish.

Now then to more chearful topics. Your ship on the stocks I saw announced in the Monthly Magazine. [1]  You will do well to introduce lyrical pieces when the subject requires them – I am doing the same in Madoc, converting the odes of Cyveilioc & Caradoc & the song of Hoel into lyrical measures. [2]  Do you take a Welsh or Saxon English interest in the story? Edward Williams [3]  if you write to him will gladly tell you all that either history or tradition has preserved concerning the event you have chosen. some anecdotes you may perhaps find in Yorkes Royal Tribes of Wales, [4]  & the History of the Gwedir family [5]  which is a very curious book. If we were nearer I would turn over to you such unused notes of Welsh respecting the Welsh as were collected for Madoc – they might save you perhaps some trouble. If x you had not begun the poem I should perhaps have advised you to try it in Spensers stanza [6]  – to have thus made your narrative in the best form of rhyme, which is favourably to the redundancy that narrative sometimes requires, & to have had your dialogues in a dramatic form.

You will of course have something to do with the Bards. In the last Annual you will see a review of Davies’s Celtic Researches [7]  xx in which I have stated his very curious speculations upon Welsh antiquities. I myself very much incline to believe that the patriarchal system was preserved more purely by the Bards than by any other race of men; – if this could be proved it would add the sanction of faith to a creed which will stand the test of reason. You will find specimens of Taliesin [8]  & many other Bards in Turners Vindication of the Welsh Poems, [9]  & much curious matter mixed with some ignorance & clumsily put together in Jones’s Musical Relics. [10] 

I have neither seen nor heard of Forsters book: [11]  nor do I remember to have heard you mention him, unless he be a person who was once deranged – certainly on your recommendation I shall buy or borrow it the first opportunity, – but no new book ever reaches these mountains except such as come to me to be killed off, [12]  which are more than are good I assure you. – My own heavy quarto stands I believe better with the world than it does with me: [13]  I do not think I could have executed it better, but the subject is bad, it was chosen too soon, & has been too long in hand. I propose to alter the catastrophe, by omitting the two last sections, & inserting something in their place in which Madoc shall still be the Agent, & the person on whom the interest hangs; for at present there is an injudicious transfer of the interest to Yuhidthiton. [14]  The eagles you will find mentioned p. 359 as borne on Madocs shield. the fact is that Wynn bears them, as the lineal descendant of Rodri, [15]  & I have only transferred them from one brother to another. the cross xxx xxx xxxxxx the Cross of Cadwallader. [16]  – Pocock spoilt my ship by relying on his own knowledge instead of mine. [17]  I sent him a copy from the Bayeux tapestry [18]  – such a ship as was used in the Conquerors days, near enough Madocs age to have done well. he asked what the poem was about, & being told the discovery of America by Madoc – thought proper to draw a ship of the age of Columbus, – which I never saw till it was engraved. the only vignette which pleases me is that emblem of the Cross & the Palm & the living stream. [19]  that in the title is very pretty, [20]  & the title itself would have been perfect if all the letters above had been the same pattern as Madoc, & that vile line of Roman letters had not occurred in the imprint.

The book & letter which you mention have not reached me. It will probably find its way in the next parcel, & so I hope will the newest new version of the Psalms. [21]  the only way in which such a version could be made to answer the cost of publication, is, by getting it if possible into use in the chapels. By this means any dissenting minister could essentially serve you.

I myself have many things in head & some in hand. the great history still continues my main & favourite employment. [22]  I think of yet another great poem but waver about the subject, sometimes thinking of Pelayo, the restorer of the Xtian monarchy in Spain, [23]  sometimes of the Deluge. [24]  by the spring when my yearly batch of criticism is over I shall perhaps have determined. – I wish Madoc could pass thro such friendly hands as xxxxx yours. – Edith desires to be kindly remembered to you – your good mother & your sister. remember me also kindly – how time runs by! I have known you & your family now a full third of my life! & may sign myself truly your old as well as your affectionate friend. –

God bless you

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Cottle/ Portland Square/ Bristol/ Single
Stamped: [partial] KESWICK
Postmark: E/ AUG29/ 1805
Endorsement: 174  72
Watermark: J LLOYD
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), p. 228; Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 394–396. BACK

[1] Cottle’s The Fall of Cambria (1808). BACK

[2] See Madoc (1805), Part 1, ‘Madoc in Wales’, Book 2, lines 142–167; Book 10, lines 42–110; Book 11, lines 98–160. BACK

[3] Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg; 1747–1826; DNB), Southey’s friend, the influential Welsh antiquarian, poet, scholar of Welsh poetry and history, reviver of bardism, and literary forger. BACK

[4] Philip Yorke (1743–1804; DNB), The Royal Tribes of Wales (1799). BACK

[5] John Wynn, 1st Baronet (1553–1627; DNB), The History of the Gwedir Family (1770). BACK

[6] The Spenserian stanza is a fixed verse form used by Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599) in The Faerie Queene (1590–1596). Each stanza contains eight lines of iambic pentameter followed by a last Alexandrine line, of iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme is ABABBCBCC. BACK

[7] Southey reviewed Edward Davies (1756–1831; DNB), Celtic Researches, on the Origin, Traditions, & Language, of the Ancient Britons; with some Introductory Sketches, on Primitive Society (1804) in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 634–644. BACK

[8] Taliesin (dates unknown) was a sixth-century Welsh poet. BACK

[9] Sharon Turner, A Vindication of the Genuineness of the Antient British Poems of Aneurin, Taliesin, Llywarch Hen and Merdhin with Specimens of their Poems (1803). BACK

[10] Edward Jones [Bardd y Brenin] (1752–1824), The Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards (1784). BACK

[11] John Foster (1770–1843; DNB), Baptist minister at Downend, near Bristol, from 1800–1804, he moved to Frome and published his Essays in a Series of Letters to a Friend there in 1805. BACK

[12] Southey refers to his review work for the Annual Review. BACK

[13] Southey’s Madoc (1805). BACK

[14] The poem ends with Yuhidthiton, the remaining leader of the defeated and chastened Aztecas, leading his people into exile, rather than with Madoc, the Welsh colonist, presiding over a new American civilisation. This was not altered. On the history of the poem’s drafting and revision, see the editor’s introduction to Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II. BACK

[15] Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd (d. 1195; DNB), son of Owain Gwynedd (d. 1170; DNB) and brother of Dafydd (d. 1203; DNB), is a character in Madoc. BACK

[16] Wynn claimed as a more distant ancestor the semi-mythical Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, King of Gwynedd (reigned c. 655–682), supposed to have visited Rome. Cadwallader’s cross was a Celtic one. BACK

[17] Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821; DNB), the marine painter of Bristol, had been asked to provide an illustration of Madoc’s ship for Southey’s poem. It was omitted because Southey was displeased with the vessel’s anachronistic modernity. BACK

[18] The Bayeux tapestry, commissioned by Bishop Odo (d. 1097), the half-brother of William I, the Conqueror (1027/8–1087; reigned 1066–1087; DNB), completed c. 1077. BACK

[19] An engraving of the palm tree and cross appears above the exordial lines of Madoc (1805). BACK

[20] The titlepage has a trophée of the shield of Southey’s patron and friend Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, a harp and an unidentified stringed instrument, a sword, a bow with arrows, an Indian bonnet, and an opened book of music. BACK

[21] Joseph Cottle, A New Version of the Psalms of David (1801). BACK

[22] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[23] The ‘story of Pelayo’ would become the subject-matter of Southey’s poem Roderick, The Last of the Goths published by Longman in 1814. BACK

[24] A plan that was never fulfilled. BACK

People mentioned

Cottle family (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)